4-11-02, 11:20 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals may be mulling trade possibilities, but at the moment they involve draft picks and not Drew Bledsoe.
Although published reports continually link the Bengals with the Patriots quarterback, New England head coach Bill Belichick said Thursday he doubts a trade would happen before next weekend's NFL Draft.
Bills General Manager Tom Donahoe, the one guy who is actively pursuing Bledsoe, said Thursday night he continues to talk to New England, "but I've got nothing to report."
All indications are the Patriots are still looking for a first-round draft choice in exchange for their Pro Bowl quarterback, in which case there won't be a deal with Buffalo or Cincinnati. Bengals President Mike Brown is apparently sitting back and waiting for the Pats' price to come down, but he isn't ruling out dealing the 10th pick up or down in the first round.
There was enough quarterback news off of Second Street Thursday without wandering to Route 1 in Foxboro, Mass. While Akili Smith threw for the first time this spring to his receivers, a college football legend worked out near him in an improbable tryout that smacked of the current hit movie "The Rookie."
But it wasn't 35-year-old baseball pitcher Jimmy Morris firing bullets at Paul Brown Stadium. It was 34-year-old Major Harris trying to crack the NFL for the first time by showing flashes of the strong arm that made him a Heisman Trophy contender and put West Virginia football on the map in the late 1980s.
Harris is a longer Bengals shot than Bledsoe, which makes him off-limits in Vegas. But a trade isn't out
of the realm. The thinking is the Bengals won't trade up, but only down in the round in order to pick up an extra second-round pick or two. Brown won't divulge his plans, but confirmed the wheels are turning.
"We've made some contact. We're just casting our lines in the water," Brown said. "It's early. A lot changes in a week."
At an ample 250 pounds, 10 years removed from the Canadian Football League, and one year after coaching pro ball indoors in Wheeling, W.Va., Harris and his story are probably headed to the fiction shelf. Yet after coaxing a tryout from Brown after year-long lobbying, Harris' determination and dream impressed him enough to offer encouragement.
"He's not in shape, but you can still see the quick release, quick feet," Brown said "We've had a lot of guys in here who didn't look as good as he did. We told him to go back and get in shape and we'll see what happens in the draft."
What happened in the 1990 draft set the stage for Harris' short-lived pro career. Despite leading the Mountaineers from oblivion to unbeaten, he didn't get picked until the 317th slot in the 12th-round by the Los Angeles Raiders. Harris took the hint and tried the CFL, where he hung around for two years.
Then he banged around an arena league and then as late as 1999 ended up playing semi pro ball in the Pittbsburgh area, where he lives and works as a youth counselor.
He went back to West Virginia a few years ago to head coach the Smash, an arena team in Wheeling.
"Football is my first love," Harris said. "I love it. It's what I do. I've never been injured. I'm healthy. I think I'm in my prime now. I know the game more know from coaching, and watching."
Harris is a breath of fresh air when it comes to evaluating what went wrong in the pros. There is no tinge of bitterness when he's asked if he came out of college six years too early ahead of the athletic strong arms such as Stewart-McNabb-Plummer-Culpepper-Brunell-McNair.
"People have said that, but I don't think about that," Harris said. "I've had a good life. I came out of college a year early and that might not have helped me."
Meanwhile, Smith took a step closer to full speed Thursday. For the first time since he tore his hamstring late last season, Smith passed while dropping back. He also threw briefly to receivers for the first time, throwing to a group that included running back Corey Dillon, wide receiver Peter Warrick and tight end Brad St. Louis.
One off-field move made Thursday saw the Bengals sign backup middle linebacker Armegis Spearman to the one-year tender for an exclusive rights free agent. Spearman, who missed all of his sophomore season last year with a torn pectoral muscle, figures to have signed for $300,000 for this season.